Work with your competitors when the interests of the community and planet are at stake.—Simon Mainwaring

Change facilitators who strive to advance who they are as much as what they do when practicing their craft are a relatively small tribe within the broader change professional community. Small, tight-knit tribes are usually able to maintain their centers of gravity more easily than large groups that often struggle to preserve their common denominators. There appears to be an emerging bonding force among practitioners interested in exploring how they show up (not just what to do after showing up). I would describe it as the pursuit of three things:

The introspective work necessary for a serious exploration of the relationship between character, presence, and clients is not for everyone. Most practitioners avoid it altogether or approach it only peripherally. That’s why those who do take this path share a common tie that usually transcends the boundaries that normally keep change practitioners in insular enclaves.

Even with the availability of Internet browsing, an unlimited array of change-related online discussion groups, and a growing number of practitioner associations, far too many seasoned people in our field restrict their exchanges to their own work teams, company/consulting firm, devotees of a particular methodology, or graduates from a certain university or training program. Those who do expose themselves to thinking and experiences outside familiar communication channels are often motivated more by the opportunity to display their knowledge and accomplishments than they are by the prospect of deeply listening to and valuing diverse perspectives and learning from others. There are plenty of exceptions to this kind of closed-mindedness, but more often than not, change practitioners collect themselves into insulated, self-referencing feedback loops that tend to minimize cross-pollination.

When this happens, the boundaries that separate professionals in our field only become stronger as competing egos battle for supremacy. Generally speaking, I haven’t found this to be the case with practitioners eager to delve deep within themselves so they can be better prepared to serve their clients and advance the profession.

Relatively few people are drawn to professional development that focuses on “who we are.” When those people find kindred spirits, they tend to disregard typical restrictions and interact with each other on a free and open basis. To them, the chance to learn from, and be mutually supportive of other practitioners on a similar journey, is more important than being constrained by parochial loyalties.

The ultimate litmus test for this kind of collaboration occurs when crossing competitive lines. Traditionally, few in our profession want to exchange information about something that could foster client effectiveness with anyone from an opposing team. Yet, this is exactly what happens most of the time among practitioners exploring who they are. I believe this is primarily because of the respect and camaraderie that naturally emerges when two or more people exchange views and experiences about something few other people pursue. In the same way that two pioneers meeting in the wilderness stop and offer each other fellowship, solidarity, and assistance, two otherwise competitive change practitioners can find themselves lowering their guard and lifting their interaction to a higher level when they find out they both value who they are as much as what they do.

Minimizing Competitive Shields

Practitioners truly committed to developing how they show up when practicing the craft display a permeability with each other that tends to override the classic protective mechanisms that keep people at a distance. They come together with a common purpose—a desire to raise the stakes on themselves. In doing so, they merge their energy in a way that generates a collective uplift around what they can expect from themselves and each other. It is powerfully unifying to be part of a tribe that not only shares a common purpose, but whose members provide each other the learning and support needed for the journey.  

These are special practitioner tribes striving to achieve heights that would be unattainable for some if left to their singular efforts. The bonding agent among them is their belief that they must all make progress together if they are to succeed individually. Each individual’s energy is spread to the other members, and is simultaneously boosted by the combined strength of the tribe. The tribe gains strength as its individuals do, and the collective upsurge enables individual advancement. It doesn’t matter if some in the tribe work for competing organizations; what is more important is the camaraderie that comes with a community that shares a mutual passion.   

So why would you want your competitors to care about character and presence?

  • If they are on the same quest as you to bring forward and integrate character and presence into their work, it matters more to be supportive members of the same tribe than to compete against each other for new business.
  • There are plenty of other practitioners with which to compete. How often do you find a comrade-in-arms engaged in his or her version of the same Hero’s Journey you are on?
  • When the tribe is supportive of all who attempt to lift their game (including competitors), all boats in the harbor rise—clients and practitioners alike benefit when the entire profession elevates its standards.

Prejudices are based on assuming fundamental differences that don’t exist. It is important that we seek out and support all change professionals endeavoring to strengthen the who they are aspect of practicing our craft. Whether they come from within your organization or are competitors from down the street…find practitioners dedicated to exploring who they are and treat them as valued colleagues on the same pilgrimage as you.